Rabih El-Khoury on the challenges and triumphs of Arab film

Much of Rabih El-Khoury’s working life has been dedicated to the promotion of Arab cinema. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 October 2020

Rabih El-Khoury on the challenges and triumphs of Arab film

  • Sudanese and Saudi cinema are blossoming

LONDON: When Rabih El-Khoury first visited Berlin for its international film festival in 2007, he was struck by the similarity of the German capital’s Wall, which used to separate East from West, and the Green Line that demarcated his hometown of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. That similarity has informed his perspective on Berlin — where he has now lived for six years —ever since.

El-Khoury works as diversity manager for Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum Frankfurt (DFF) and is curator of Alfilm, the city’s Arab Film Festival. This year he has also curated the UK’s 2020 SAFAR film festival, organized by the Arab British Centre, bringing his extensive experience of covering Arab cinema to the event.

He appreciates Berlin for its “openness and multiculturalism,” while conceding that “it has its fair share of racism and prejudice, such as you would find anywhere else.” But, as he told Arab News, it was Beirut that “made me who I am today.”

Rabih El-Khoury works as diversity manager for Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum Frankfurt (DFF) and is curator of Alfilm, the city’s Arab Film Festival. (Supplied)

A few weeks ago he returned to the Lebanese capital with a sense of dread to make contact with family and friends in the aftermath of the devastating port explosion and to see the results for himself.

What he found, alongside the obvious blast damage, was a general loss of hope among the people. This, he said, “was much more heartbreaking for me than the physical devastation.”

“People have very little confidence in the future so long as the political elites stay in power. They cannot even retrieve their money from the banks. Basically, leaving is on everyone’s minds, but it is very difficult to leave without money.  The people have not only lost relatives and homes — their dreams have also been stolen,” he said.

Rabih El-Khoury with Filmmaker Vatch Boulghourjian and Score Composer Cynthia Zaven of Tramontane at Alfilm Berlin. (Supplied)

He added that a scene from 2014’s “The Valley,” by Lebanese director Ghassan Salhab, came to mind as he surveyed the ruins of his city because it contained a reference to the possibility that “Beirut may disappear.”

Another painful aspect of his return to his home city was the fact that the renowned Metropolis Art House Cinema — on of the few in the region that showed films that did not make it onto commercial screens — closed its doors in January due to a business dispute.

El-Khoury joined the Metropolis as administrator when it opened in 2006 and eventually became managing director. 

“There is no cinema at the moment and the team has been shattered by the repercussions of the blast and the political situation,” he said. “It is very difficult for them to continue but they have a fantastic spirit and a director who is very keen to push things forward and make sure that culture becomes available again to everyone.”

A screengrab from “In the Last Days of the City.” (Supplied)

DFF is raising money to that end, El-Khoury said, as well as for filmmakers in Beirut “who have lost so much.”

Much of El-Khoury’s working life has been dedicated to the promotion of Arab cinema — he has organized more than 20 Arab film weeks around the world. And despite the current situation, he sees many promising signs for the industry in the MENA region.

“Sudanese and Saudi Arabian cinema are blossoming. There are so many emerging talents, and filmmakers such as Amjad Abu Alala and Suhaib Gasmelbari in Sudan and Shahad Ameen and Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan in Saudi Arabia offering broader subjects,” he said. “With emerging countries, you are seeing completely different things compared to countries such as Egypt with a longer history and experience of film.

A screengrab from “Tramontane.” (Supplied)

“We cannot yet talk about an Arab film industry as such, but we are advancing in the right direction,” he continued. “We see there is support for filmmakers and producers to come up with new and exciting projects, but funding — especially state funding — will be very tricky over the next few years across the world due to the pandemic.”

He expressed his disappointment at the apparent cessation of the Dubai Film Festival.

“It’s a real loss, not just for the UAE, but for Arab film generally, because so much was achieved. It was a fantastic initiative and many people were discovered during the festival. The problem with the Gulf, in my view, is that so many initiatives are launched but not maintained,” he said.

But overall he maintains a positive outlook: “I am looking forward to seeing what will emerge and how people reflect on their societies,” he concluded.

Meet the hijabi fashion blogger redefining modest style

Updated 19 October 2020

Meet the hijabi fashion blogger redefining modest style

DUBAI: With their chic, modest style and unprecedented flair for makeup, a new crop of Instagram stars are irrevocably redefining the hijab. Rana Ellithy, who recently popped up on our radar, is certainly one to watch. 

The 21-year-old became an Instagram sensation in less than a year, garnering almost 100,000 followers in mere months after uploading a styling video on Instagram in April. “I was really not expecting that video to blow up like that,” she shared with Arab News. “I did it just for fun, but I got some really positive feedback,” she added, stating that some young women even messaged her to tell her they felt inspired to wear the hijab because of her video.

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Do I look tall?

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Ellithy was born in Egypt and brought up in the UK. The business consultant, who graduated last year, now splits her time between London and Cairo. It was in the former where the stylist and influencer decided to take blogging more seriously. “I was bored during quarantine in London,” she explained. “So, I started taking more pictures and videos and uploading them on Instagram.”

The stylist believes the reason that her videos and photographs were able to resonate with so many people so quickly is because of her ability to effortlessly take readily-available pieces and basics from Zara and H&M and create chic outfits that her Gen Z followers can easily reinterpret.

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Rare pic without my sunglasses

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“I always felt like there was a gap of modest bloggers around my age,” Ellithy shared. “Their fashion taste is very good, but it’s not personally what I would wear. I try to stick to everyday basics because that’s what girls my age like,” she said, adding that some of her go-to brands are Egyptian labels Emma, a headscarf brand, and Zoella. 

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Bright Bright

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Fortunately, Ellithy’s foray into the world of social media has been smooth, with her only obstacle being balancing her full-time corporate job with blogging. “It’s really hard to balance the two,” she admits. “There’s a lot of expectation on me to post consistently, so I try to film as much content as I can on the weekends,” she said.

However, she revealed that she will eventually pursue her love for fashion full-time and even has plans to roll-out her very own online concept that focuses on everyday basics for modest dressers.